How did I get Here?

12/07/2020

Greetings dear ones.

Here I am sitting at my desk, which I have the blessing of being placed in front of a window overlooking a grassy nook on the edge of this property, lined with evergreens and young Aspens that have just shed the last of their leaves.  These taller trees seem to be watching over the young ones that are just getting their bearings— a red-limbed Manzanita, and a “Christmas berry” whose proper name I forget; a sage bush inauspiciously sprouting next to the path, being very modest about her sacred ceremonial lineage; a chrysanthemum* that I planted, currently trimmed down to the nubbins after her lovely October blossoms lived out their glory in a pot on my altar before traveling with me here when I moved all my belongings during Thanksgiving.  More Aspens perch on the top of the hill, a dry slope lined with wooden fences that are part of a neighbor’s ranch.  I often see a horse or two, and a tan, furry cow, relaxing away the day over there, lolling in the sunshine and the breeze.  

My stepmom suggests I start a blog series entitled, “The Adventures of Trailer Girl,” because indeed, I am a girl living in a trailer.  When I first posed the possibility that I might move into this space (an opportunity that arose early fall), I’d say the general reaction from my main advisory board (aka, my parents and step-parents) could be labeled as, “concerned.”  After all, I’d only just moved to California in January 2020.  I spent the first 6 weeks living in a tent on my friend’s farm, until my apartment arrangement was ready for residing, delayed until mid-March (the week before Covid lock-down).  And so, to move again?  What was the point to go through all that effort and hassle?, my family wondered (and I also questioned).  

The trailer, aka “The Forest Yogini Hut”

But when my country-dwelling farm friend told me, “This is miraculous!”, when a place opened for rent just a mile down the road from her, up in the mountains, on the land of a woman who practices Loving-kindness meditation and is a fan of Iyengar yoga, I could not ignore her reflection of the situation. I had to agree, “You’re right, this is miraculous!” She also reminded me, “Isn’t that why you moved out here, to be close to the land?” Indeed, I hadn’t exactly pinpointed that being the reason, but, of course!

You might be wondering, “How does one become acquainted with sacred Southern California mountain desert land while residing in Tampa Bay, Florida?”

The short answer: a program called, “Medicine Mandala.”  

When I first came upon Medicine Mandala, it was subtitled as a “Green Witch apprenticeship.” An initiation onto the Priestess Path, and an exploration of the Wise Woman tradition of herbalism. Folk medicine; ritual and ceremony; exploring the Celtic wheel of the year; introduction to Tantra; practicing non-violent communication and learning about community; re-membering ancestral ways of cooking, eating, and being on the land. “Yes, yes, and yes!” I thought (and felt) as I read the online description.

Caroline, the legendary Vicki Noble, and Yaya, in the speckled light of the Oak grove, July 2019

It was mid-2018, and looking back on myself then, I was mired in grief, feeling lost and wondering, “What is next?”  My sister had passed away suddenly just a year before— a fatal fall while hiking in the Goblin Desert in Utah.  And then 6 months later, in January 2018, my fiancé suffered a psychotic break, and in a very bizarre and terrifying yet divine episode, I wound up in the hospital, by face beat up almost beyond recognition (I say “divine” because when I was knocked unconscious, I went into a state of euphoria, dipped into a timeless river of spirit with all my loved ones and mentors and heroes, and everything seemed to be dripping in golden divinity; this state of bliss stayed with me even after I awoke, so much so that in the weeks following this domestic abuse, I felt strangely calm and peaceful, comforted in knowing what perhaps lies beyond).  

It was May of that year, when my mom and I gathered in Washington state with my cousin and aunt, to be together for Mother’s Day, which fell on May 12th— the one-year “angel date” of my sister. Since the abrupt end of my relationship to my supposed-beloved, I’d taken only a couple weeks off from work, during which time my friends helped me move everything out of the house he and I had bought together and lived in for only a few months, and soon I went back to “life as usual,” with bruises and swelling and stitches still visible on my face. So this vacation to Washington brought welcomed rest, and the cool weather, vistas of the water with seals swimming, and long walks through the wooded and spring-blossoming neighborhood reminded me, “Nature is medicine.” While here, my cousin—hip to the west-coast spiritual vibes after moving to Boulder, CO to attend Naropa University years before and staying synced to this wavelength ever since—made me wise to a gathering called “Spirit Weavers,” a festival for women to learn and share in their spirituality; and a podcast called “Dream, Freedom, Beauty,” where many of the facilitators from this gathering are interviewed. Something within me was ignited. I followed this thread and began listening to episode after episode of the podcast host Natalie Ross interviewing spiritual, earth-tuned women leaders.

Me & Mom in Washington, Mother’s Day 2018

It was here that I first heard interviews with Erin Rivera Merriman, aka “Yaya.” I was intrigued by her way of speaking, her attention to language, and this oracular way she had of weaving together ideas. I discovered that she also had a podcast, at the time called, “Starseed Survival Guide” (now “Earthside Survival Guide”). And from there, of course, I began to notice her mentioning, “you can learn more about our apprenticeship at ‘active culture family.com’**…” Something within me said, “THAT! What’s that?” Upon first glance, seeing she was based in San Diego, CA, I actually thought, “Well, I guess I could just move to California…”. Then I realized most of the work was online, and there would be quarterly in-person gatherings on the land throughout the course of this 1-year program. Okay, so I wouldn’t have to move to a new state…

Through an application and an interview, by June of that year, I was accepted as an apprentice. When the first signs of fall arrived that September, so began the work of this transformative journey with 19 other women from around the world (which ended up being 16 of us total by the time we all graduated in August 2019). Oh, how I could lovingly write an essay on each woman, describing each one’s unique beauty, talents, quirks, humor, story, magic… and perhaps I will do that someday. But for now, I’ll just say, the bond of sisterhood that came from this year-long journey together extends beyond time and space, and we are all certainly connected on a soul level for at least this lifetime, and likely beyond. Indeed, my prayer and intention that led me to Medicine Mandala was well-answered: “Sisterhood.”

Medicine Mandala sisterhood 2018-2019, graduation weekend
(Sisters of the Storm & Sisters of the Oak)

The cultivation of this sisterly circle happened on the land that held our gatherings, on the farm outside of San Diego, California, on Kumeyaay territory.  The mountain peak that looms on the horizon there, beyond the break in the trees, was a sacred place where the tribes would honor their ancestors and celebrate those who had passed.  Elder trees and coastal oaks form natural groves under which we would sit for class, sing songs, talk about dreams, and practice movement and breathing.  Before sunrise, Carrie Lou, the land steward, would invite anyone who was interested to learn how to “harvest” a chicken— a skill our great-great-great-great grandmothers would have known, a skill that many of us have forgotten, or now look down upon as brutal.  (Yet, certainly we would not be here today if our ancestors had not known how participate fully in “the circle of life,” recognizing how death allows life to continue.  *Side note: I am admittedly divided on the subject of eating meat, as a devoted student of yoga and ayurveda.  But that’s a discussion for another time!)

Much healing has happened for me through the deepening of my connection to the land, to the plants and animals, and to the food I choose to eat.  This evolution continues to unfold; such is the nature of awakening— as eastern philosophy reminds us with the symbol of the blossoming lotus flower.  I aim to continue following the breadcrumbs.  So when one of my Medicine Mandala sisters (with whom I’d instantly felt connected and at ease when we met) mentioned she’d soon be looking for a roommate in San Diego, the thought returned, “Maybe I’ll move to California!”  

A painting of the farm, my final project for the program

Perhaps you know the feeling of “being in the flow” of life?  When the answers are, “Yes!”  When things “fall into place.”  And perhaps you know the feeling of being “out of the flow”— when things are canceled, when the weather gets in the way, when the job offer falls through, etc.  Well, long story short, the river of my life was clearly flowing away from Florida and toward California at the end of 2019.  So by December, I’d packed up all my belongings; and with my car fully stuffed, plus some furniture scheduled to meet me at the San Diego apartment by March, I set out after Christmas in my green Kia Soul to drive across the country.  

(You can read about my first adventure along the way here: Diary of a Vipassana Experience— recounting the 10-day silent retreat that I joined last-minute, which enticed me to leave Florida when I did. And more about another spiritual deep-dive that presented itself once I arrived in California, here: Tantra).

A scenic stop en route to California— somewhere in Arizona, January 2020

Of course since the beginning of March 2020 to December 2020, so much has unfolded!  We’ve experienced a global pandemic, for one.  (I could just stop right there and pause to ponder that one for awhile!).  Following more breadcrumbs, I enrolled in a certification program to become an Ayurveda Counselor— which is a sister-science to yoga that focuses on the medical aspect, and involves all the things I’m passionate about: movement, meditation, nutrition, herbs, hands-on bodily care, 1-on-1 healing work, self-empowerment, breathwork, and other ancient healing techniques.  And the pandemic prevented me from defaulting into my go-to forms of money-making: working in restaurants and/or teaching at gyms and studios.  So, when the opportunity to become an in-home caregiver arose, I was eager to try this new avenue (although fearful of having zero experience).  So, as it goes with “being in the flow,” caregiving to the disabled and to the elderly has woven its way into my identity this year.  (On caregiving: I’m amazed at how this work allows me to, interestingly, take better care of myself while I’m at work.  I actually spend most of the time SITTING DOWN—which feels like a god-given gift coming from the restaurant world.  And it feels surprisingly natural to be wiping poop out of another person’s butt (I suppose us humans have been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years, so why wouldn’t it?).)  

Another pivotal part of this year, particularly in the realms of healing, presented itself as a Women’s Empowerment group called “Groundswell,” which later transformed into a new iteration called, “Alchemica.” Created by two women who came together over their passions for eastern tradition and modern science, the program mapped out specific methods for healing from trauma in order to blossom into our full potential, to step into our authentic voice, to express our heart’s truth in order to transform and evolve ourselves and the planet. The women are Dr. Spring Cheng and Dr. Stephanie Mines, and it is their brilliance and generosity that attracts me like a moth to a flame, calling me to continue exploring their offerings. (Currently I just completed a group offering on “Healing from Addiction,” and am about to embark on a foundational series that will be the first stepping-stone toward acquiring the skills to practice/teach a somatic trauma-healing technique known as The TARA Approach).

Ayurveda Satsang (“community gathered in truth”), Encinitas, California, 2020

I am excited to continue sharing about all I’ve been studying and practicing. When wondering, “What to write about today?” in hopes of shining more light on the wisdom of Yoga and Ayurveda, or diving into the revelations that unfold through this somatic trauma-healing work, I often find myself wanting/needing to first journal about how I got here in the first place… so I’m glad to have had the opportunity to lay that foundation here, and can now continue to build upon this groundwork, sharing more specifics through both personal story & poetry as well as ancient teachings & modern science!

November 2020– The altar in my San Diego apartment bedroom, just before taking it down to move to the trailer. This space nourished me and kept me sane and grounded and uplifted throughout 2020!

Thank you for bearing witness to this journey… truly it’s an honor to share and to be seen by you. 

Blessings, 

Until next time,

💚Courtney

*Considered one of Goddess Durga’s favorite flowers, and commonly presented as an offering during Her 9-day festival based in India, called Navaratri; this year the festival landed on Oct. 17-26, 2020.  

**the online home for Yaya’s school is now found at RioCosmico.com

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